20 Ways the Earth Could End by
What a great idea for an article. And
the delivery is clear, scary, and astonishing. Some of the disasters envisioned by Cory Powell—flood basalt volcanism—will happen, provided something else doesn't destroy the earth before then. Others—mass insanity—appear less
probable. The big issues are how we prevent and respond to them. Flood
basalt volcanism is serious. A flood-basalt volcano 65 million years
ago spewed 100,000 times the lava as an Icelandic monster volcano in 1783. An even
earlier volcano wiped out 95 percent of species. The “little”
1783 Icelandic volcano reduced U.S. winter temperatures nine degrees Fahrenheit.
As unbelievably energetic as
flood-basalt volcanism is, other disasters are at least as horrible. A
collision with an asteroid or other large space object looms. The Kuiper belt
at the fringes of the solar system contains about 100,000 ice bricks larger than
50 miles across. Even much smaller asteroids produce impacts
releasing more energy than all the nuclear weapons in the world. I read
elsewhere a collision with an asteroid six miles in diameter produces the
energy equivalent of 200 million megatons of TNT, almost ten billion times as
much energy as the Hiroshima bomb. The Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet fragments
colliding with Jupiter in 1994 released over 100 million megatons of TNT
equivalent energy. (Geez, 1994? It seemed liked yesterday. I feel old.)
A gamma ray burst from a nearby star
would obliterate the ozone layer and decimate the bottom of the food chain.
Gamma ray bursts produce ten to the 16th power more power than the sun. Our sun
is also capable of producing a solar super flare that would increase its
brightness by a factor of 20, enough to reduce us to ashes. The sun
could also dim, producing a super ice age. Many cold periods in the past
resulted from solar dimming. Volcano holes were the only part of the earth not
covered with ice 700 million years ago. A build up of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere freed the earth from the big ice age.
Powell claims about ten million black
holes lurk in the Milky
Way. A rogue black hole could knock
earth from the solar system, alter earth’s orbit, or invite earth to lunch.
Powell waxes very, very exotic. He claims a particle accelerator disaster could
produce a mini black hole that slowly munches on earth. Many of the killers
mentioned by Powell could kill billions—super epidemics, super
toxins, world wars, bio weapons—but I doubt they could kill
everyone. Other exotic killers offered by Powell: God, alien invaders, smart robots. This is among the best articles ever. Highly recommended.